The Offense of Offending
Drew Alexander | Feb 10, 2014, midnight
Administrators at a California high school sent five students home for refusing to remove their American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday, because it would be “insensitive” to be displaying Old Glory on another nation’s day of celebration.
A rodeo clown was permanently banned from performing by the Missouri State Fair because he wore an Obama mask. All other rodeo clowns in Missouri are now required to take “sensitivity training.”
Seattle officials have banned the words “citizen” and “brown bag” because one might be offensive to noncitizens and the other because of some remote, long ago racial connotation.
A 6-year-old girl student in North Carolina was told to remove the word “God” from a poem she wrote in tribute to her two grandfathers who served in the military during the Vietnam War.
The Obama administration has banned all U.S. government agencies from producing any training materials that in any way link terrorism to Islam.
In San Francisco, residents who have pets are no longer their “owners” but “guardians,” while in other parts of the country, gender neutrality dictates that a “manhole” cover should be called a “maintenance hole” or “utility hole.”
On and on it goes, the manipulation of language into something considered more “acceptable” and less “offensive.” Instead of “gang,” it’s “youth group.” An “illegal alien” is now an “undocumented immigrant,” and an “abortion” is a “near-life experience.”
It’s almost a capital offense to offend anyone in this era of political correctness. A common knee-jerk reaction to someone with whom one disagrees is to call for their silencing. Those upset at media opinion writers and commentators who hold views contrary to their own, routinely demand their firing instead of stepping into the arena of ideas to engage in forthright debate.
I don’t see conspiracies lurking behind every unusual event or political movement. What I do see are certain repetitive historical patterns, among them an application of language filtering that leads to imposing conformity of thought. Tyrants have long known that when they control language they control the populace. The fascists knew this, the communists knew this, and so has every other despotic form of government.
In Oceania, the dystopian super state in George Orwell’s classic novel “1984,” government-invented language was called “Newspeak,” chillingly corresponding to present-day politically correct speech.
In Orwellian society, anyone harboring controversial or anti-societal thoughts was guilty of a “thoughtcrime.” In America, the majority of states have enacted “hate crime” legislation based on the fallacy that what is in someone’s mind and heart in the commission of a crime requires extra punishment for feelings exhibited toward the person or property victimized. This makes no sense. Hate is an ugly emotion, but it’s not a crime—at least not yet.
The degrading of language is the means by which the right of free speech is eroded. As Orwell put it, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Drew Alexander, also known as “The Curmudgeon,” is a monthly columnist writing about political issues. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Drew Alexander, in care of Lovin’ Life After 50, 3200 N. Hayden Road, Suite 210, Scottsdale, AZ 85251.